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Nancy Okerlund
Volume 1, Issue 9, 11/08/07

Amused Curiosity and Lame Jokes

I notice my relationship to energy is changing, for the better. I wonder if I have more of it or if I'm using what I have differently.

Last week I received a message from someone who asked, "Where can one find physical energy when one absolutely has to have some, in order to cope with the demands of contemporary life, from which there is ultimately no escape?....I had hoped you had discovered some new source of energy for introverts to tap into – other than the necessary down-time."

Still fresh from my 6-day qigong retreat, in a way I felt like I had discovered a new source of energy (even though I started learning qigong in the early 90s.) Six days of immersion in that world of "energy work" was no small thing.

Marti Olsen Laney, in The Introvert Advantage, calls extroverts "energy spenders" and introverts "energy conservers." Extroverts get energy easily from people and places and things. Interacting with the world is like being plugged into a continuous source of energy – extroverts can afford to be spenders.

We energy conservers (introverts) have quite a different ball game. We get our energy from the inside – from our thoughts, feelings, impressions. We're not plugged into that ongoing "worldly" energy source – in fact lots of stimulation drains us. And our nervous systems need peace and quiet to do the internal energizing.

Does that mean introverts get to pick from two hard options: over-stimulated or cloistered away having down-time?

I certainly hope not – and I don't think so.

It's been several years since I started consciously relating to myself as an introvert. I think that was a big first step. One of our challenges is that introvert/extrovert isn't on the world's radar screen much yet.

I felt a big relief at understanding the new research about the physiology of introverts and extroverts – and I started to think about myself as an introvert, regularly. As an introvert, maybe I was invisible to the world, but not to myself!

I began turning into a "conscious introvert." (And it started happening with my coaching clients.) Even though I hadn't particularly identified with the negative stereotypes about introverts, I didn't have much that was positive in my mind either – and I felt out of sync with the world on a regular basis.

That changed. As I got a sense of the introvert profile, it wasn't long before I felt downright proud of my new identity. And even if the world still seemed to be marching to a different beat, I didn't seem as out of step. I stopped feeling wrong (and confused) and started feeling different (and curious).

I'd always managed to carve out down-time, no doubt a survival tactic (which chronically cut into my sleep time at both ends). With my new introvert identity, I gradually stopped thinking that needing down-time is a weakness. I don't know that I get any more these days than I used to, but I make no apologies (and I get more sleep!)

I started to be very curious about how to behave as an introvert when not in down-time. With my new awareness of the 3 to 1 extrovert/introvert ratio and my developing understanding of the United States as a big extrovert :-), I got more relief, and more permission to feel different instead of wrong.

But how to act "different"?! Initially I think it was mainly an internal process – watching myself to see what I could notice about how this introvert does behave. Being kinder, more compassionate with myself when I noticed my awkwardness at small talk or my discomfort in new surroundings (among other things). And just wondering: if I've stopped unconsciously trying to fit in, to be an extrovert, then how do I be an introvert?!

That's an ongoing question, but a pleasant one. Instead of the anxious confusion I lived in as an unconscious introvert, now I notice a lot of amused curiosity. I make lame jokes with myself (and sometimes others :-)) about how an introvert would do this or that. I find myself feeling good-natured and open-hearted in over-stimulating situations, like crowds, for instance. A few years ago there was more criticism and whining.

Gradually I feel more and more ease at just being myself – including going at that slower introvert pace. (Last week I told you I brought my own pillows to the qigong retreat. The fuller truth is that I also brought a down comforter and a small carload of other stuff to help me feel comfortable away from home. :-))

Then there's extroverting, another important part of being a conscious introvert. More amused curiosity and more lame jokes here. One thing I notice is that finding my introvert way to do things is a companion of developing extroverting skills: in any given moment, it seems, there's the possibility of doing it the introvert or the extrovert way. Often an interesting choice point.

For me, I think the biggest shift in this area is that I now make a clear distinction between having extroverting skills and living an extrovert lifestyle – and I'm no longer trying to live like an extrovert. (At the moment, the cutting edge for me with extroverting is to be fluent at "speaking extrovert" - easy with small talk, shorter sentences, louder voice, switching subjects quickly….)

So I'm what I call a conscious introvert. I've reframed introversion: not only am I very aware of it, I love being an introvert and consider it a wonderful asset. I manage my energy respectfully. I'm finding my own introvert ways of being in the world and I'm working on my extroverting skills.

My relationship to energy has changed. I don't know whether I have more or it's that I'm using what I have differently. Whichever it is, I'm having a good time.

As for discovering some new source of energy for introverts to tap into, as a matter of fact, the qigong retreat has stimulated my thinking along those lines. Up next, a peek at the yin and yang of being an introvert (or an extrovert!)

End of food for thought – on to practical ideas:

A Practical Idea for Introverts

Think of five things you enjoy about being an introvert. Keep them in mind for sharing in a conversation when the time is right. (A contribution to the cause of more visibility for introverts!)

A Practical Idea for Extroverts

Wonder about what it would mean to be a conscious extrovert.

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